20 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Ok. There are gonna be some spoilers here, I'm telling you now. Sorry. I am going to talk about the ending of the movie, so if you haven't seen it, you should probably stop reading.

So, for the most part, I found Scott Pilgrim vs. the World to be a highly entertaining, delightful film. It's a lovely homage to old school video games, and a lot of fun. I was amused. All was well. But as it progressed, I felt a growing sense of impatience. Then, at the end, there was a brief moment where it looked like salvation was on the way... only to be cruelly disappointed.

Here's the thing. The movie is about Scott fighting off his love interest's exes. That's all well and good, but the problem is - you're not really sold on why he's so interested in this girl Ramona in the first place. And the more you get to know her, the less you like her. And you start to think about who these people are, and what their deal is, and you start to feel a little... uncomfortable.

(What follows is basically a plot summary with running commentary. I realize I said at the outset of this post that you shouldn't be reading it if you haven't seen the movie, which means that if you're reading this, you've probably seen it and have no need of plot summary, and in fact, this kind of summarizing with commentary is exactly what I'm constantly telling my students not to do, but you know what? It's an easy way to work out what you think about something. That's why they do it. If I were turning this into a paper that I'd be handing in to myself, I'd use what follows as fodder and distill it into an argument about the film. In fact, if I were writing a professional review, that's what I'd do. But I'm writing a blog post, and I have less than 10 minutes to finish this before going to play poker, so if it's gonna be posted today, this is what it's gonna be. Sorry.)

So, at the opening of the movie, we meet Scott, played by the wonderful Micheal Cera in typical fashion. He's been brutally dumped by a girl named Envy, and has just started dating a girl named Knives. This is suspect to his friends, because Scott is 22, and Knives is 18. We also find out that Scott might have left a trail of wounded women in his wake. But we don't really think about this too much, we just sort of enjoy the humor of his interactions with Knives and wonder, albeit slightly uneasily, what's coming next. Then, he has a dream about a girl he's never met. And the next day, bam, he meets her. Ramona. She is literally the girl of his dreams. He starts pursuing her like mad. We're kind of sympathetic, because he's so pathetic, and also because Knives has always seemed like kind of a joke anyhow. Besides, Ramona seems so cool.

Next thing we know, Scott is dueling Ramona's exes. It doesn't make a lot of sense, but whatever, it's entertaining. Things are going pretty well, overall. But this is when the movie starts to imperceptibly shift. First off, Scott starts getting annoyed at having to fight these exes. Why in the hell was she dating these jerks anyhow? Hey, good point, we think. What's the deal? Then Ramona starts getting kind of... angsty. Oh, woe is me, my past that hangs over me. Meanwhile, Knives is still in the scene, which is initially milked for awkward humor, etc, and then an apparently absurd revenge quest that you start to realize, isn't that absurd after all. He jilted her. The movie initially tries to play this off as amusing, like how on Earth could Knives presume to challenge Ramona? But you start thinking, gosh, you know, Knives is pretty cool. And Ramona is kind of a flake. Huh.

Then we get to the denouement, which happens twice, and seems to involve a kind of epiphany where both Ramona and Scott realize that when it comes to relationships, they've both been selfish jerks in some ways. This is sort of interesting, but ultimately not all that compelling, not least because it seems so hollow. But then, when the dust settles, Ramona does this whole self-sacrificing, you can do better than me, and besides Knives loves you act, and walks away. And Scott does actually turn to Knives, who he's been seeming a big more snuggly with. And you think, hey! YES! This is awesome! This is totally how this movie should end! And then Knives unloads the SAME self-sacrificing bullshit and tells him to go with Ramona, and he DOES! GODDAMNIT!!! I was SO pissed. And you know what? I honestly do feel like there is a subtle racism to it, of him picking the goth white girl over the badass Asian chick. And then I started thinking about how throughout the whole film, Knives was basically a caricature, more so than any of the other characters. And I found myself liking the movie less and less. And realizing how closely it adheres to basic stock plots of hollywood cinema, albeit dressed up in a cute way.

So yes, I was entertained, for the most part. But still, ultimately, I'm disappointed. In other words, I'm not saying don't see it - it's a fun movie, worth checking out. But I invite you to share my disappointment. SHARE IT. Join me in bemoaning the stupid cliche of the stupid mainstream, and in yearning for something more interesting. I want to say more true to life, but the thing is, I have this suspicion that movies like this ultimately serve to reinforce the mainstream, and to keep guys believing that they're right in picking Ramonas instead of Knives. And I guess that's a step forward from the days when they were supposed to pick the cheerleaders who had no ostensible personality whatsoever, but still, lame. So I guess, I want movies that are more true to life as it should be (what can I say, I read Marcuse's Aesthetic Dimension a few years ago and it changed my life.).

I will say though, that Kieran Culkin was absolutely fabulous as the deadpan gay roommate. A real treat. His career has been following an interesting path. While I wasn't really a huge fan of Igby Goes Down or The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, they're certainly interesting choices of roles. It'll be interesting to see what he does next - I bet this performance will get him some positive attention.


Sally said...

I completely agree with your view on this movie. I was thinking the exact same thing throughout my sitting of it. It was incredibly funny but also very painful. The Knives vs Ramona thing annoyed me to no end, and being an Asian girl myself, I was very annoyed at the completely caricature of Knives and the whole "i'll change myself to impress Scott by looking like Ramona" thing. Ugh. I agree that if he ended up with Knives it would have made me feel a lot better about it all, not because I'm Asian and I want the Asians to 'win', but because watching Knives do all of that for him was so excruciating that I just thought "he better not go off to Ramona", but yet at the same time I kind of expected him to. I'll stop now, in fear of being here all day.

But nice work on this review!

culture_vulture said...

Thanks for your comment! Glad to know someone agrees with me. You make a great point about Knives trying to look more like Ramona, ugh.
Now I keep seeing the movie on Best of the Year lists and it makes me want to hit things. Especially because I haven't seen a single piece on it that mentions the negative side. Gah!